Firstly, let’s get this out of the way: Matthew MConaughey and Jared Leto can have all the awards – it’s their performances that lift Dallas Buyers Club out of soap opera territory into something special. The story is based on the life of Ron Woodroof, a macho Texan who was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 80s and given 30 days to live. It’s fair to point out that there’s a lot of hoo-hah about how loosely based the story actually is – some artistic licence has been taken with major elements of Ron’s story. Does that matter? Not really, although the real truth is slightly more interesting (google it) and might have made for an even better film. Either way, McConaughey does him justice here in a role that he inhabits like some sort of glorious moustachioed python.
The AIDS epidemic terrified people in these early days – it’s easy to forget that it was in essence a death sentence, treatment was sporadic and ineffective, and the focus was more on prevention than cure. For those diagnosed in these early years there really was no hope. But Woodroof looks his last 30 days in the eye and decides that won’t do for him so after one last binge, spends most of those days researching drugs that might help him live a bit longer. And he finds them, care of an exiled doctor in Mexico whose advice and medication literally give Ron a new lease of life. (Full disclosure, for a minute or two I thought the doctor was Colin Farrell and was amazed at the improvement in his acting skills. It’s Griffin Dunne of course.)
Once he realises the treatment is having an effect – and Woodroof lives for seven more years – he becomes outraged at the fact that the FDA had refused to licence most of the drugs that were helping him and starts to import them in some quantity, selling them on to other HIV patients, mainly gay men. And to help him gain their confidence, who better than Rayon – a striking transgender woman he meets in hospital (Jared Leto). The two forge a Hollywood cliche style unlikely alliance (Ron is portrayed as a rampant homophobe as well as a bit of an arse) and after a few brushes with the law, set up a buyers club which members pay a subscription to join then get their drugs for free.
The queues are round the block, much to the fury of his medical team. Only one doctor, the supremely drippy Dr Saks (Jennifer Garner) takes any notice at all of the fact that the drugs are actually working, but she doesn’t do much about it. It’s this role that for me gave a little insight into what a turgid do-gooding bore this film might have been without McConaughey and Leto – there’s no real point to it, other than to say oh by the way not all doctors are bad. So as I said, let them have all the awards, in a great big bag with a pink bow on it and a quart of bourbon in the bottom.
PS anyone who knows me will know that the dropped apostrophe in the title PAINS ME